This is a headline that I never expected to see, much less write. There is no greater dumpster fire in professional sports than the NY Jets. For their fans, of which I have the misfortune to be amongst, they have been less a sports team and more a seasonal source of indigestion and gloom. The only thing to learn from the Jets is how to torpedo a team.
In mid-January of this year, something strange happened: the Jets made a leadership change that was widely applauded and hired Robert Saleh to become their new Head Coach. Saleh came to the Jets from the San Francisco 49ers with the reputation of a leader who inspires and challenges his players.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) January 19, 2021
At the core of Saleh's reputation is his skillfulness as a communicator. Many former players spoke of his ability to connect with his players, to engage them in ways that spoke to their identity as athletes and their aspirations for their careers, qualities that tenure can erode in professional athletes and corporate employees alike.
Which brings us back to Covid-19, where every conversation about every issue in the past year will inevitably end up. Saleh could not meet his players in person due to the pandemic. He could not sit face-to-face with potential free agents that the Jets wanted to entice in joining the team. Back to the aforementioned culture of dysfunction: it was incumbent on Saleh to be a master salesman, as the prospect of hopping on a trainwreck like the Jets required the greatest of influence skills. But how can you be a master motivator when you are forced to be remote?
Against all odds, Saleh did just that: the power of his personality won over several free agents and captured the interest of many other players who will soon be available. And this communications impact was achieved through the use of video.
Since the pandemic began, many leaders have been skeptical about the power of virtual communications. How could their messages have any real emotional impact and cut through the distance and soul-sucking monotony of Zoom fatigue?
As this article attests, videos of Saleh speaking changed hearts and minds. “I looked up some stuff about Coach Saleh on YouTube,” free agent Carl Lawson said in his introductory press conference. “I saw he took the job here and I looked at some of his interviews and I came away with how impressive he was with the message he was preaching, even in a video. I felt like he was talking to me. In the back of my mind, it kind of started there.” Another free agent, Corey Davis, said that he came away similarly impressed with the vibe Saleh gave through a computer screen.
What Saleh has proven is that the power of a leader's personality can not only translate through virtual channels. It can actually be transformative. Even remotely, a leader who is intentional about their communications and creative about their use of video can inspire both new and prospective employees. As we enter the age of hybridity, Saleh is a benchmark we should all acknowledge.
As a Jet fan, the worst thing that can happen is that you become hopeful. Hope has been the recipe for disappointment for so long. Yet with a new season approaching, hope springs eternal in the Jets organization as a result of Saleh's leadership communications. It has been something to behold and a source of new optimism where before there was none.